When errors appear on your credit report, they can have serious financial consequences. Negative credit errors have the potential to damage your credit score. And if your credit score declines — due to a mistake or otherwise — it could cost you.
A bad credit score can make it difficult to qualify for financing products like credit cards, mortgages and auto loans. If you find lenders willing to work with you despite a low credit score, you’ll likely pay higher interest rates and fees when you borrow money.
Therefore, taking action is critical if you discover errors on your credit report. And if you haven’t checked your credit reports recently to confirm that they’re accurate, it’s important to get in the habit of doing so on a routine basis.
The guide below will walk you through common credit errors you might discover on a credit report. You’ll also find four simple steps you can take if you ever need to correct credit errors of your own.
Check your credit reports
The best way to ensure that your credit reports contain accurate information is to review your credit information from the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Thanks to a 2003 amendment to the FCRA known as the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act or FACTA, you have the right to access a free copy of each of your consumer credit reports once every 12 months.
Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to access your free credit reports. Through the end of 2023, the credit bureaus are giving consumers free weekly access to their credit reports.
Make a note of any errors you discover
After you download your credit reports, you should review all three of them in detail. Note any incorrect information you discover on your credit report so you can decide whether you wish to dispute it later.
Certain credit reporting mistakes may be more concerning than others. You should be especially alert to any errors that might indicate that you may be a victim of identity theft or that a credit bureau may have accidentally mixed your credit information with another person’s.
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Here are some common credit report errors to watch out for as you review your reports:
- Incorrect identifying information (e.g., name, address, former address, date of birth or Social Security number).
- Accounts that don’t belong to you.
- Invalid account numbers.
- Duplicate accounts.
- Inaccurate payment statuses.
- Incorrect account balances or credit limits.
- Outdated negative items (e.g., late payments older than seven years old).
Prepare a dispute letter
Once you identify the errors you wish to dispute, prepare a letter to submit to the appropriate credit bureau. If there are errors on more than one of your credit reports, you’ll need to send disputes to each credit bureau.
Be sure each dispute letter you write identifies the inaccurate credit items you want the credit bureau to investigate (along with their account numbers). You should also include why you disagree with the information on your credit report.
You can find free dispute letter templates online from both the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). You can also submit disputes online via each of the credit bureau’s websites.
However, many experts, including the National Consumer Law Center, advise against using online disputes. Mailing certified dispute letters to the credit bureaus instead of submitting online disputes may help you avoid limiting your dispute options with pre-populated choices, lack of documentation, and other potential problems.
Wait for a response
After you mail your dispute letter, a credit bureau has 30 days (or 45 days under certain circumstances) to investigate your dispute. When the investigation is complete, the credit bureau will contact you with the results.
Here are the most common potential outcomes you might encounter after a credit dispute:
- Deletion: The credit bureau deletes the item you disputed from your credit report. It no longer has any impact on your credit history or credit score.
- Update: The credit bureau updates the item you disputed on your credit report. The future impact the item has on your credit score will depend on the information that changed on your credit report.
- Verification: The credit bureau did not remove or change the item you disputed because the data furnisher (the company that reported the account in the first place) verified the item was accurate.
If you disagree with the results of a credit dispute, you could try to submit a follow-up request for further investigation. However, you could also consider escalating matters and file a complaint with the CFPB (including proof that you already submitted a dispute which didn’t fix the problem).
Credit errors can wreak havoc on your financial life, making it harder to qualify for the best credit cards, loans, and other financial products. Therefore, it’s important to monitor your credit reports for accuracy and to take action if credit mistakes happen to you. You have rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), but it’s up to you to exercise them and protect yourself.